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Opinion: Change Cinco de Mayo Celebration in the K-12 Classroom

Opinion: Change Cinco de Mayo Celebration in the K-12 Classroom

One educator encourages teachers everywhere to change the way they celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the classroom to avoid stereotypes and integrate "contemporary and complex portrayals of cultures" that define school-wide curriculum.

According to Sudie Hofmann, professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, though schools often have good intentions, Cinco de Mayo classroom celebrations are typically inauthentic and promote stereotypes as opposed to facts, providing misleading information to K-12 students everywhere.

Hofmann recalls a time when her daughter, in elementary school at the time, came home to her with a flier from the school's PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) asking for volunteers for the school's annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.

After seeing what Hofmann referred to as "cultural props" litter the flier, she decided she should reach out to make a change.

"I presumed the PTSA meant well, and was attempting to provide a multicultural experience for students and families, but it seemed they were likely to get it wrong," she said, according to the Huffington Post.

The flier that Hofmann's daughter gave her also asked for students and parents to look for books that had characters such as "Speedy Gonzalez, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, etc."

Hofmann felt that these 'Mexican themes' "represented offensive stereotypes." The PTSA carried on with the event, Hofman said, and declined to use her help except to offend her by calling to ask if she knew anyone who could "'do the Mexican hat dance.'"

Hofmann says that this story has become a big example of what she uses to warn against mis-teaching culture in her teacher education courses.

In one class, Hofmann introduced "native informant" Rosa to help the class understand how factual incorrect stereotypes about Mexico can be. For instance, she told the class she didn't know what a burrito was, and encouraged them to research why this might be.

After the research activity, the class learned that traditional burritos (not the "overstuffed, high-calorie" ones typical to the United States) are a staple in Northern Mexico, not Central Mexico, where Rosa was from.

"A colleague of mine from Puerto Rico said, '. . . and tell your students food stereotypes are a big deal. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked if I miss tacos from home. We did not eat tacos!'" Hofmann said.

What Hofmann recommends, and says should start with Cinco de Mayo celebrations, is a multicultural and anti-oppression approach to teaching that avoids these kinds of incorrect stereotypes so that students receive the best education possible.

In Hofmann's class, students "first created a weeklong curriculum that incorporated inaccurate characterizations of Chicana/o culture and history, emphasizing dance, food, and festivals and designed fliers with cultural props for a hypothetical school celebration. In a follow-up discussion, students realized that this approach felt familiar; it's the easy approach to multicultural education taken by many schools," the article said.

Hofmann says that in her class, students learn to distinguish fact from fiction and therefore become culturally aware individuals and therefore well-rounded members of society.

Read the full story here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

05/04/2015

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